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Monday, 20 August 2018

PetPlan Equine Area Festival at Northallerton

After being incredibly disappointed that we missed our opportunity to compete in the PetPlan Area Festivals at Alnwick Ford Equestrian during June due to Louie’s fractured humerus, I had decided to enter the Prelim Silver at Northallerton instead. I knew Louie would only be back in work a couple of weeks, he wouldn’t be fit, wouldn’t have had any competition practice, but I wanted to go to give him the experience of going in a bigger arena, with more atmosphere and more going on.


We were fortunate that our monthly flatwork training session with Cathy fell on the Monday leading up to the competition, where, due to the rain, we made good use of the indoor arena mirrors to encourage a higher frame from Louie, as well as working on some shoulder in to straighten the canter. His shoulders were starting to hug the wall or outside track making it appear as if he was bringing his quarters in.

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A few days later, I went back and hired the arena to use the mirrors again, just so I could practice on my own and try to get the same results on my own, without Cathy’s support. I was pleased at how well he went and we enjoyed chatting to one of the liveries while schooling around – it was nice for a friendly face to pop in & see us!

Leading up to the competition, I was very conscious not to over school, and thanks to some rainy days and nights, the ground had begun to soften, so we headed to the fields to enjoy 30 minutes of flatwork… Of course, we finished up with a treat and popped the 4 or 5 warm up jumps for the cross country!! I’d also tried to be very prepared to go to Northallerton – it’s about an hour and a half to two hour drive (depending on traffic) so I wanted to do the drive ahead of the day itself as it has been a few years since I’ve been. So the weekend prior, I’d entered a prelim and novice BD. Not only would this mean I could get myself familiarised with the setup there (just another thing not to worry about) but also get some test practice in. While we had been to Alnwick Ford a few weeks before (after just a week back into work) it hadn’t really been a good practice run…

North Yorkshire is very competitive, I remember from my days of eventing with Thomas that any event based there always seemed to need a very good score to get in the placings!! There were some beautiful horses in the warm up, but I was really pleased with how Louie had taken to somewhere new and put in a couple of good tests, gaining good scores in his classes. I felt much more comfortable coming out the following week for the Area Festival.

Getting a later time than we’re used to…!

Wednesday the times came out…I checked all morning but typically as I headed to meetings, they came out. I’d got a perfect plan for the week as I expected an early time and with no stable at home at the moment, I’d agreed with Cathy to stabled at her yard in Harrogate on Saturday night, where I could have a lesson before getting him ready for the next morning. All that changed when I saw my time…


Yes, quarter past eight, AT NIGHT. That’s more of Grand Prix time that a Prelim. Still, at least I’d have plenty of time to get a white horse clean and perfectly plaited. Although writing this on Monday evening very much looking forward to my bed, I’m pleased about the time as I had my full Saturday to do whatever I wanted & I had all of Sunday morning to relax and chill out. I took full advantage on Saturday, and enjoyed our first proper and full jump in almost FOUR months, in Philippa’s super swanky new arena. It felt fantastic to be skipping around a course of fences again, and although only small, Louie felt as if he had jumped yesterday. We worked on technique – both horse and rider – throughout the session and left with a definite buzz.

Competition Day

Sunday arrived, and after popping up to give Louie his breakfast in the morning, I enjoyed a sedate morning, sitting sipping on coffee and watching Saturday Morning Kitchen Best Bites!! But the relaxed feeling didn’t last long…I could feel anxiety building, but I’d no idea why. I definitely wasn’t nervous, I knew we’d been super organised the day before making sure everything was clean, tidy and ready to just pack into the horsebox. I checked Northallerton’s website probably about 20 times throughout the morning, checking I had the day right and that I hadn’t mis-read am as pm! Sure enough, I had it right – 8.13pm. Well, actually I had no reason to be questioning as the day before, the organiser had called to ask if 7.59pm was OK for me due to withdrawals.

Why I was questioning I had the right day and time was just silly… But it really showed how being out of a routine can affect the way that you are feeling & acting. Something that I think many people will take for granted. For me, it was about a change of routine to the competition day, but for others it could be changes to routine in the week leading up to a competition.

One o’clock arrived after what felt like a lifetime, and I got changed and packed up ready to head for the yard, without forgetting a single thing (hooray!!) I knew I needed about two hours to get Louie ready from the field, and wanted to leave by 4pm to get us there in good time for an arena walk at 6.20pm.

I still found it slightly strange leading Louie, white horse who enjoys a good roll, in from the field at 1.40pm to get ready for a competition. I’d rugged Louie the night before, including popping his neck cover on as a damage limitation insurance, and thankfully, on pulling his rug off, there was very little cleaning to be done – just a tail and four full legs to wash. I chose to plait first, where for a change, I had a handy helper – Andrew – to pass my Plait it up spray and plaiting bands. It definitely saves some time but also chatting away makes the time pass much quicker. Before I knew it, Louie had 17 neat little plaits all stood in a row on his neck.

Next, it was onto washing… I just use a rubber curry comb to get most of the dried mud off Louie’s upper legs, knees and hocks, and then a body brush to get the dust off. Otherwise, I find it running into his white socks after washing, leaving dirty brown streaks…

Considering Louie’s white socks have been confused with white boots/bandages in the past during a test, I don’t spend long washing them, but just rely on two great shampoos and the master of all washing tools – Shires Ezi-Groom wash brush! Thirty minutes later, I have a sparkling white horse!

After a quick towel dry – I know, he’s very pampered! – I bandaged his back legs & got him all dressed up to travel. We left the yard only a few minutes later than intended at 4.06pm (to be very precise!) Traffic was good on the way down, and apart from hitting a few heavy showers, it was an easy journey… Not that I knew much about it, enjoying a long snooze while Andrew drove!!

Arriving at the venue

We arrived in good time to find our bearings and figure out where we needed to go for our arena walk. I have to admit, it felt strange being at a competition venue and jumping onboard in casual riding gear, as well as putting Louie’s boots on. Although I always boot Louie up, depending on the warm up surfaces, they can leave his legs really oddly marked for when we head into our test, so I choose not to. I headed to the warm up, expecting there to be almost no one else for the arena walk session, but was surprised to find 8-10 other horses also wanting to do the same.

I’ve never done an arena walk before so I wasn’t really sure what to expect – I knew it was walk only and you couldn’t do any of the test movements (e.g. walk across diagonals) as well as needing to wear both bridle numbers. We followed a few in and soon learnt that we just walked around the edge, changing direction when asked my the ring steward. I felt Louie shrink slightly when we first went in, but he was striding back out after a good pat and had gone past the first corner. I was actually really impressed with him – going right into his corners, against the judges’ cafĂ© and box, as well as past the shed and car of the two extra judges. The last couple of times I’ve been out on Louie, I’ve really felt as though he’s grown up and into his own confidence much more – it’s a lovely feeling.

After 10 minutes or so, the walk was over, and I popped Louie back on the box to enjoy 30 minutes massage with his Equilibrium pad, while I grabbed some food and relaxed before it was time to get back on for our test warm up. As our time had move forward by 15 minutes, I now only had around 40 minutes back at the horsebox, which flew past, and before I knew it, I had to get changed into my competition gear while Andrew gave Louie a good brush over and got him looking his best!

We headed for the warm up, and for once, I can report zero nerves. I felt totally comfortable, relaxed and didn’t have a single negative thought in my head – it was so refreshing!

We were met with a full tack check and the steward was very patient. Louie is very sensitive and picking about being near his mouth, but patience wore through and he agreed to have his bit checked, of course enjoying a good pat and telling he was a good boy by her afterwards.
Louie warmed up well at first, but soon became behind the leg and not really listening which made me a bit frustrated – why this time Louie!? After some stern transition, he seemed much sharper, but also much more tense… Great! The worst feeling to have from Louie for a dressage test – everything goes wrong when this happens…

I felt a little under pressure as the ring was running about 15 minutes early, but I knew I had to take my time and get his swing back and make sure he was relaxed going into the arena. I took my extra time, and Louie felt back into a nice swing and rhythm, so after one final canter transition, I headed in.

The first thing I spotted – all the spectators in the viewing gallery. This is where they pin up the results, and where live scoring is available. As I was the last horse of the day, anyone and everyone waiting for their results was in that viewing gallery. IGNORE IT SOPHIE – don’t think about it. I distracted myself thinking about how proud I was getting Louie here after his injury and that it was all my own hard work that had got him here, so don’t waste it! (& remember to show everyone you’re enjoying it – smile!!)

We were dinged in just after M, and boy, did that 60m centre line feel a long way to stay straight on!! I have ridden a couple of tests in 60x40’s before, and while they seem to freak some people out, I actually really like them, finding that they help you be much more accurate with circles, turns and riding transitions, and of course, you physically have more space! I always aim for accuracy during a test, even in the bad ones, as I think that it is one of the core basics. This was no different – ride the corners, stay accurate and ‘feed the neck’, all while trying to keep Louie’s frame a little higher, something that I think I didn’t do a great job of, but we’ve always something to work on!

Louie put in a lovely test – I went for ring experience and to ride a more mature test than our riding club championship test last year. He definitely did, flicking his toes, and only come back against me a few times when he wasn’t quite sure and was a little tense. I was beaming as I headed back up the centre line for our final halt – I was so pleased with him!

Heading back to the horsebox, both Andrew and I were pleased with the test and happy with how Louie had gone. Louie wasn’t too sweaty, so I gave him a quick wipe over with a damp sponge, before walking him off, bandaging him up, popping his rug on and letting him have a munch of hay on the box. As I was last of the day, I knew I wouldn’t need to wait long to collect my sheet and see how my test had faired in the class, so I headed over to collect it and take a photo of the full class results. I’d already heard prizegiving starting while Louie was being washed down, so I thought I best go and cheer on those who had been successful and qualified. As I reached the small crowd, my name was called… I nearly fell over!!


I could not have asked for more – there were some beautiful horses there and although I’d only seen one or two of the tests in action, they were lovely big, bouncy horses. Louie must really have found his dancing shoes… And I must be super critical as the test must have been much better than I had first thought.

I was handed a glass of Prosecco and a lovely green & blue rosette, and put in front of the photographer. Great – wearing a scruffy waterproof jacket, with my hat straps undone, slightly in shock…But I was still thrilled to be stood where I was!! I collected my score sheets where I found our final score was 67.5%, with the winner on around 70.5%, & I was amazed to see that the results showed 38 starters to the class. So not only qualifying but doing so in such a big class meant so much more!!

This was definitely going to make the drive home seem much quicker! Once Louie was all sorted for the journey home, I headed for the cool box to get some snacks and treats for Andrew and I, and was over the moon to discover four cans on Pimms – just the right touch for the occasion! I have to say I enjoyed two of them on the way home, feeling slightly sorry for Andrew sipping on his bottle of water while driving us all safely back to the yard.

I expected Louie to be fairly tired – he was after his trip to Northallerton the week before – but he arrived home at 10.15pm, and marched into his stable, gobbled his dinner and then was looking to be back out in the field, so off we headed to put him back out where he could tell all his mates about his adventures of the day!!

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